Sea Cow, 2006 - £2.00
Here are eight poems looking at domestic situations: a group of teenagers on a beach; getting a carrier bag down from an apple tree; putting down ant powder; watching a swimmer; a man looking for a lost dog; a waitress having lunch; thoughts of war; reflections on an extension to a house.
But the focus of each poem is on connections. A teenage girl smoothes the hair of another while the boys throw pebbles. The poet catching an air-filled carrier bag feels as if she’s puncturing a living thing. The glaze of a saucer retains the rasp of the long-dead cat’s tongue. The swimmer’s wake is as if “the sea pushes lines of triangles towards him.” In the title poem, ‘Assassins’, the focus is on the tension of two Staffordshire bull terriers watching an unleashed Alsatian bitch. In ‘Late Lunch’ the narrator finds a strand of hair belonging to the waitress in a salad, but doesn’t make a fuss of it, merely savours the moment in a poem. In ‘The Abandoned Quarter’, the grocery-carrying narrator stops to look towards the hill where war is taking place, sees “bare-headed, fair-headed/ his gun across his stomach/ a soldier stands braced” and concludes “the war’s coming closer/ go home now quietly.” ‘A Marriage’ talks about a new room on a house and ends:
Destroyed in a second
the house I pulled down
had somehow put itself together again
risen, in spite of me, on solid grounding.
Though these delicately-drawn poems are reliant on mainly prose rhythms, Mary Michaels successfully draws out an apparently narrow focus into something wider, using the personal to make a universal point.
The Common Reader says of Assassins: I loved this one. So much warmth. Feelgood Poetry I'd call it. The title might have related to cold, dangerous poems but I found nothing at all cold about Michaels’ writing. I have great admiration for anyone who can create a poem about removing a white plastic bag from a tree and somehow convey an emotional attachment to this action. ‘Late Lunch’ was another example of a quite ordinary situation described with great warmth. It lets the reader in to share the intimacy of the situation:
her long dark hair fastened loosely at the neck
in a loop of blue elastic
one strand, as always falling onto her face
The end of the poem was delicate and tender:
I crumple it up in a paper serviette
don’t mention it to anyone
like having that softly falling lock in my mouth
say it was her hair
If I could find fault with this collection it would be that it was very short (only 10 pages) and I’d liked to have read more ●